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The Influence of Galatians on Hebrews

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2009


The Epistle, or perhaps preferably The Homily to the Hebrews, has always been one of the more intriguing and neglected documents in the NT canon. The history of the difficulties this document had getting into the canon do not need to be rehearsed here. It appears in the end Hebrews made it into the canon because it was deemed a Pauline letter, or at least a document that came from the larger Pauline circle.

Short Studies
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1991

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1 Cf. for instance Moffatt, J., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (Edinburgh, 1924) lxx n. 1.Google Scholar

2 Theodore notably says while commenting on Gal 4. 24 ‘et hoc in epistola ilia quae ad Hebraeos est interpretantes ostendimus euidentius’ but of course he was writing early in the fifth century A.D. Cf. on this Manson, T. W., Studies in the Gospels and Epistles (Philadelphia, 1962) 245.Google Scholar

3 In fact in p46 and B at Gal 6.11 we have ήλίκος, doubtless a later correction to the more familiar word.

4 Cf. Westcott, B. F., The Epistle to the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, 1974) 298302.Google Scholar

5 Hughes', G. fine discussion of this whole matter in Hebrews and Hermeneutics. The Epistle to the Hebrews as a New Testament Example of Biblical Interpretation SNTS Monograph 36 (Cambridge, 1979)Google Scholar highlights numerous points where echoes of Paul can be heard especially in the following areas: 1) eschatology; 2) the revelation of God in the Son; 3) the use of the OT; 4) the relationship of the Old and New Covenant; 5) God's word of promise fulfilled in Christ; 6) Jesus' life as an example of and basis for faith (cf. below).

6 Cf. Hagner, D., Hebrews (San Francisco, 1983) 156.Google Scholar

7 That Romans 1. 17 is a less likely influence on the author of Hebrews is shown by the close juxtaposition of Hab 2. 4 and Abraham in the other two sources that quote the verse.

8 Moule, C. F. D., The Birth of the New Testament (London, 1962) 45.Google Scholar

9 E. Käsemann rightly points out that in both Paul (especially in Galatians) and Hebrews we have the argument that what the OT people sought from earthly institutions and the law can in fact only be had from heaven and in particular from the one who came from heaven and made possible the realization of the heavenly promises through a new and eternal covenant. Cf. Käsemann, E., The Wandering People of God (Minn., 1984) 63.Google Scholar

10 There is no time at this juncture to argue at length whether Hebrews is addressed to a Jewish Christian or predominantly a Gentile audience, though it seems very likely that a Jewish Christian one is mainly in view. Heb 13. 9 is certainly no argument against this view as the use of the termξένος, is in fact common when referring to a teaching from a religion other than the one currently embraced. It does not necessarily carry the connotation of unfamiliar or unknown, but rather the sense of something foreign, or by extension something alien to what one currently embraces. Cf. Hermas, Sim. 8,6,5; Josephus, Bell. 2.414. That the author mentions various teachings in 13. 9 also militates against the idea that he is opposing some sort of narrowly sectarian Judaism. It is also unconvincing to argue that the author of Hebrews would not have called a falling back into non-Christian Judaism a form of apostasy or a falling away from the living God. To the contrary, if he believed that faith in Christ's final and sufficient atonement for sin and his vindication beyond death was essential to salvation for those who live after the time of Jesus' life, he might well have argued in such fashion, just as Paul does in Galatians. His entire argument, like Paul's, is based on the premise not only that Christ offers something better, but also something that eclipses the old covenant, as good as it was in its day.

11 Actually the argument in Heb 3. 12 ff. is rather close in substance to what we find in 1 Cor 10.1 ff. about Israel's rebellion, and I would not rule out that our author also knew both 1 Corinthians and Romans.

12 Cf. Filson, F., Yesterday. A Study of Hebrews in Light of Chapter 13 (London, 1967) 22–5Google Scholar. Note that the other closest parallel is with 1 Thessalonians, but it is less exact than what we find in the case of Galatians and Hebrews.

13 Cf. Hays, R. B., The Faith of Jesus Christ (Chico, 1983)Google Scholar; and Hooker, M. D., 1988 Presidential Address to the SNTS in NTS 35 (1989) 321–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

14 Of course T. W. Manson long ago argued that Hebrews was written to some Christians in the Lycus valley. I think that that is unlikely, and Rome may be a more promising possibility. I do however find that the case he among others makes for Apollos being the author of Hebrews is more persuasive than any of the alternatives. Cf. Manson, , Studies in the Gospels and Epistles (Philadelpha, 1962) 242–58.Google Scholar